In isolation (from the rest of Genesis) and from 10k’ this is a dramatic though fairly straightforward story. Jacob, with the help of his mother, Rebekah, tricked their dying father/husband, Isaac, into blessing Jacob rather than his brother, Esau. Upon finding out—understandably—both Isaac and Esau became enraged. Having experienced Esau’s heart of rebellion and having caught word of his murderous intentions, Rebekah pleaded with Jacob to flee to preserve his life.
The story is filled with lying, hatred, and threats of murder—all things that create significant intrigue. If this were the start of a secular novel it’d probably become a best seller. As a biographical sketch of the chosen family of God, however, it takes on a different tone.
We’ll quickly see that “all the participants were at fault. Isaac, whether he knew of the earlier sale of the birthright or not, did know the oracle of God that the elder would serve the younger; yet he set himself to thwart it by blessing Esau. Esau, in agreeing to the plan, broke his oath to Jacob (25:33…). Rebekah and Jacob, with a just cause, went about achieving it by deception, with no faith or love. Theirs would be the victory—although they obtained only what God declared they would receive anyway—but they would reap the appropriate fruit of hatred and separation (Rebekah never saw her beloved Jacob again)” (Ross, CB, 471-2).
All of this unfolds over the course of six scenes. We’ll consider the first four this morning and then the final two scenes next Sunday. But what are we to do with all of this? What are we to make of the story as a whole? And what are we to make of the specific questions (ethical and otherwise) it raises? Is lying OK? What’s the deal with the blessing; why does Isaac treat it like some sort of single-use, irreversible magical spell? And why would its use on Jacob necessitate a curse upon Esau? Did Isaac not understand that Jacob was the chosen one of God, did he not care, or did he simply think this was a different matter? Lying, hatred, and murderous intentions.
And above all, from all of this, I want you to see a few familiar things: 1) God’s will, will be done—even through the foolish choices of His people; 2) Seeking to manipulate God’s will is folly of the highest order—even if God turns it to good; 3) Choices have consequences—even if God largely shields us from them; and 4) If God’s grace is able to reach this family, it can reach anyone—even if we don’t deserve or seek it. Let’s pray, asking God to help us see and apply these things as we work through the various scenes of this story.
BACKDROP: ESAU THE STINKER (26:34-35; 27:46)
Before we get to the scenes, we need to consider two curious passages that sort of bookend or frame the first five scenes and significantly inform the sixth. On their own we might wonder why they are in here. In the larger context, however, they explain a lot. Let’s look at 26:34-35 and 27:46.
26:34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
27:46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”
Short version: Esau was a stinker and he married a pair of stinkers. In doing so he continued to show total disregard for the ways of the LORD. He was, from what we can tell, almost entirely secular and carnal (or profane as I said in a previous sermon) and in that, he continually caused trouble for the people around him. Again, that fact goes a long way in shaping this story. Even while largely in the background, Esau’s worldliness negatively affects many, many aspects of life for the Israelites from this point forward.
What about you—have you ever known someone like Esau–someone who lives entirely “under the sun” and seems to do nothing but stir up trouble? Have you ever been that person? One thing this passage shows us is how destructive the sinful choices of one person can be. It helps us to see how much damage sin can do. And, rightly read, it also helps us see the need for a Rescuer—for ourselves and the “Esau’s” in our lives.
SCENE 1: ISAAC’S PLAN (1-4)
With that, let’s consider the first scene. In it we see that Isaac had concocted a plan. To satisfy his stomach and shift the blessing from Jacob (who bargained for it back in 25:29-34) back to Esau (his favorite son according to 25:28), Isaac concocted a scheme. We need to consider two passages to truly understand this scene.
First, we need to reconsider consider God’s prophecy to Rebekah in 25:23.
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
God had clearly determined to continue His covenant promises through Jacob (not Esau). Jacob was the blessed of the LORD. In the first scene Isaac was trying to figure out a way to work around that.
Second, we need to consider Hebrews 12:16-17
15 See to it … 16 that no one is … unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
This is key in that it lets us know that the blessing went with the birthright. When Esau so hastily sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (25:33), he also sold the blessing. Again, Isaac’s plan seems intended to undo that.
And with these two things, let’s consider Isaac’s plan.
27:1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Again, in light of the two passages we just looked at, the plan is simple. Get some good food and restore the blessing to the older, favored child in spite of God’s plan to the contrary. In this way, then, Isaac set himself up against God. And that, of course, is folly in the highest degree.
SCENE 2: REBEKAH’S PLAN (5-17)
The second scene flows right out of the first. In scene 1 Isaac and Esau sought to bend things to their will. In scene 2 it is Rebekah and Jacob who do so. We see attempts to manipulate all over, in everyone.
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the LORD before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”
Isaac favored Esau and so he wanted to bless him in spite of God’s wishes. Rebekah favored Jacob and so she sought to preserve the blessing he acquired dishonestly by further dishonesty. “I heard your blind, dying dad’s plan, let’s use both against him!” was the essence of Rebekah’s plan.
But Jacob objected—not, unfortunately, to the dishonest manipulation, but—to the plan’s feasibility. Jacob, the chosen one of God’s, main objection was that the plan wouldn’t work, not that it was sinful. Sheesh. His mother, however, was so sure it would work that she volunteered to take any repercussions that might result from Isaac or Esau’s finding out.
11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.”
Without a conscience-level conviction, and with his practical concerns out of the way (as long as it’s mom and not me that gets in trouble!), Isaac went ahead with the plan.
14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
As this scene comes to a close everything is set. Thus, we’re momentarily left wondering whether or not it would work. This is the essence of a cliffhanger.
SCENE 3: REBEKAH’S PLAN IN ACTION (18-29)
Scene 3, then, opens with Isaac before his father holding all that his father had requested.
18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn [how easy it was for him to lie to his father; see how seared his conscience had become]. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” [It’s easy to see Isaac’s suspicion.] He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” [perhaps the most treacherous line in here…Jacob stooped so low as to invoke the name of the LORD to give credibility to his lie. And yet Isaac’s suspicion continued to rise] 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” [still skeptical] He answered, “I am” [still lying without missing a beat]. 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.
In this passage everyone does whatever it takes in an attempt to satisfy the desires of their flesh. How sad this is to see in an unbelieving family. How much sadder to see it in the chosen family of God.
Well, what would happen next? Did Rebekah’s plan work? Had Jacob sufficiently tricked his father? Would he receive the blessing he and his mom so desired and God promised through these shady means? Yes.
26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,
“See, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven
and of the fatness of the earth
and plenty of grain and wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
Isaac’s blessing almost directly mirrored the words of the LORD in his promise to Rebekah concerning Jacob. Isaac must have known this. He must have known that he was going against the will of God in declaring it over (what he thought to be) Esau rather than Jacob.
Preserved for all time, then, is the duplicity of this family. And yet, through their duplicity, preserved as well for all time is the simple reality that the power of God is such that His will will be done. Nothing can stop it and there is nothing He cannot use as an instrument to accomplish it—even the sinful acts of His creatures are tools in the hands of the Redeemer.
Here we’re left with another cliffhanger. The blessing had been bestowed through trickery. Eventually Esau would return and the jig would be up, right? Let’s look at the next (and final) scene (for this morning) to find out.
SCENE 4: REBEKAH’S PLAN REVEALED (30-40)
Have you noticed that this story is told in the most dramatic fashion? Everything works out perfectly. With each scene the participants miss each other by mere seconds. If things had been even a little different, the result would have been much different.
30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.”
Well, it’s about to get real.
32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”
It’s not hard to feel the betrayal and despair. “Trembled very violently” and “Cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry” (notice all the amplifiers—very, exceedingly, great) are not phrases used by people in pleasant places. “Tremble” means “intense fear and alarm”. Likewise, “bitter cry” is a wail of despair. They are used by people in anguish. Even though the end result was the plan of God, it was brought about in treacherous ways by the “victors” and was despised by the “losers”.
There are significant lessons here, Grace. God’s will will be done. And we will be participants in its accomplishment. But we must see from this passage that we can be on the “wrong side” of God’s will with bad intentions or on “right side” with equally bad intentions. Let me briefly explain what I mean by both and what it means for us.
Rebekah and Jacob both wanted what God wanted—for Jacob to receive the blessing of Isaac as the child of the promise. And yet, once again, they wanted it for wrong reasons and went about securing it in wrong ways. Rather than for the glory of God, they desired the will of God for their own benefit. In that sense, they didn’t really want the will of God. It just so happened that God’s great plan and their selfish desires coincided in this instance.
Here’s the lesson: Don’t assume that just because you enjoy certain aspects of following Jesus, that you enjoy them in a manner pleasing to the LORD. As a brand new Christian I chose to take “Christianity 101” as an undergrad elective. It was taught by a man fascinated with all things surrounding the transition from Judaism to Christianity. He had a PhD in the transition period between testaments. He’d given decades of his life and 100s of thousands of dollars to his studies. He was also an atheist.
Growing up in the West, in the US, and in the Midwest in particular, our culture has long been predominantly Christian. Our sensibilities have largely been “tuned” to Christianity. We should not be surprised, then, to find that many times the desires of our flesh, or our natural inclinations regarding sexuality, morality, truth, justice, goodness, etc., are at least loosely in line with God’s design. So it’s possible that you like studying the Bible or having kids or a binary view of gender or honesty or coming to church, not so much because you love and long for the heart of God, but because those things are simply in line with your selfish interests. It seems that that was the case in a very real way with Rebekah and Jacob. Let us learn from them and fight in the Spirit’s power against the tendency in ourselves.
On the other hand, Isaac and Esau didn’t want what God wanted. They thought they knew better. Thus, when God’s will was done (which was contrary to their wills), they were left despising that which is truly good. Certainly, without knowing it their greatest desire was for something far lesser that what God had planned. Truly, everything other than what God has planned is far, far lesser.
Here’s the lesson: the very nature of sin is that it tricks us into desiring the lesser over the greater. It is a deadly tragedy when we are not glad in the plans of God. And it is an equally deadly tragedy when we are glad apart from them. Last week I mentioned during the G2g parents’ time that when we consider the roles of husbands (in the book we’re reading together, “Love that Lasts”), the natural and right tendency of the wives will be to examine their husbands in light of the Biblical standard the book presents. But what might not be as natural is for the wives to check their own sense of satisfaction in their husbands/marriages against these same standards. What I mean is this: there are plenty of wives who are discontent with genuine godliness in their husbands (and vis versa of course). Their husbands are acting according to their roles, but their wives have created a different set of expectations by which they are measuring their husbands. Certainly, marriage problems result from husbands not living according to God’s design and expectation for them. But just as many marriage problems result from wives not liking God’s actual design and expectations. We must learn to love what God loves for it is always better.
Back to the story as we wrap up. Things get even stranger here. It sure seems like Isaac should have been able to call an audible. “Oops. I didn’t mean to bless Jacob. He tricked me. He’s a stinker too. Now that I know the truth, though, I will bless you, Esau my son.” But, as we’ll see, that’s not what happened.
35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
Having found out about Jacob’s treachery Esau, it seems, made a reasonable request (“Bless me, even me also”) and asked a reasonable question (“Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”). But, alas, it cannot be so. Isaac only had one blessing to give. In ways that might not be obvious to us—especially coming from a man who so easily sought to manipulate the plans of God—Isaac saw this type of blessing as an oath before the LORD, and as such it must not be broken.
You may remember Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11. There he vowed to the LORD, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Though he made the vow in haste he did so before the LORD and was forced to make good on it even though it ended up being his daughter that came through the door. Isaac saw his blessing in the name of the LORD in the same way…irrevocable.
Worse still, however, because his blessing on Jacob was set, and because it included the subservience of his brothers (including Esau), Isaac’s words to Esau ring more like a curse than anything else.
39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40 By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
Like Cain and Ishmael, Esau’s fate was to be one of wandering contention. Indeed, his line, the Edomites, were men of war. The contention that began in the womb spilled out into the world for generations. The pain and destruction brought about by the choices made in this passage lasted for centuries. For those reasons, we are right to look upon these people with sadness and grief. We are right to be discouraged by their sin. We are right to acknowledge how grievous their actions were toward one another and toward God. And we are right to believe that every one of them were very far from the will of God in this passage.
But we are also right to recognize that it never was, never is, and never will be on the basis of our worthiness that God saves us. The chosen family was not worthy and neither are we. We are all rebels. Thus, we ought to find great encouragement in the simple fact that if God’s grace is able to reach this family, it can reach anyone. No one is beyond saving; God’s grace is that great. No one has sinned to much such that the blood of Jesus is insufficient to wash it clean; God’s grace is that great. And no one has wandered too far from the Way such that they cannot be brought back; God’s grace is that great.
Again, from all of this we see that: 1) God’s will, will be done—even through the foolish choices of His people. So let us learn to love the will of God; 2) Seeking to manipulate God’s will is folly of the highest order—even if God turns it to good. So let us learn to rest in the will of God; 3) Choices have consequences—even if God shields us from them. So let us learn to walk in the will of God; and 4) If God’s grace is able to reach this family, it can reach anyone—even if we don’t deserve or seek it. So let us know that the will of God is that we would cling to Jesus Christ and His saving work.
I hope to have helped you see each of these things. I hope you’re able to see them even more clearly after we look at the final two scenes next week. And as a result, I hope you will look to the Lord Jesus today; for the first time for salvation or in new ways to walk in greater holiness…all for the glory of God and the good of the nations.